Since graphene was first isolated in 2004, the initial research buzz around it focussed unsurprisingly on its remarkable physical properties, such as Klein tunnelling, observed in these atomic layers. Then, research in material and device aspects started to claim its role on centre-stage, in the quest to explore graphene’s potential applications in commercial products. A plethora of graphene materials have since been developed for applications in areas as diverse as biomedical sensors and energy storage.
When talking about graphene applications electronics might come to mind, since banking on, for example, graphene’s high electron mobility seems a no-brainer. However, the R&D timescale of electronic products are incredibly long, and limited by – for one – the lack of industrially scalable production of high-quality monolayer material. Thus, it comes to little surprise that the first commercial applications of graphene materials included tennis rackets instead, which bank on the lightweight and robustness of less-electronically-pristine graphene. Rackets are now being joined by bicycle tyres, in which the addition of graphene materials improves their mechanical properties, such as grip and durability, and heat dissipation. If we look at products that are a little bit less sporty but more mainstream, we find the graphene-coated LEDs recently developed at the University of Manchester (almost) on shop shelves. A bulb can be yours for a mere £15, and promises to reduce electricity consumption and last longer than conventional LED bulbs.
Graphene has thus started trickling down production lines and reaching us customers. But how pervasive will its presence be in the coming years? In which market areas, if any, will the ‘graphene revolution’ really happen? A recent market research identifies key areas in which graphene is expected to have significant commercial impact over the next 10 years and forecast the size of the global market. Keeping in mind that the market for graphene products has been estimated to be $1.5m in 2015, the projections for 2020 ($310.4m) and 2025 ($2.1b) are plainly mind-blowing. The report predicts a mean annual growth rate over the next decade of over 46%, and singles out capacitor applications as the workhorse of the graphene industry, with a growth rate of 65.7% over the period, followed suit by structural materials, with a growth rate of 37.8%. Other applications considered include communications, data storage, thermal management, displays, solar cells, sensing and imaging.
It is still early days for graphene products, but their future shines bright. On our part, we hope that advances enabled by this wonder material will also impact possibly less remunerative, but equally important, applications such as water desalination and purification.
Elisa De Ranieri (Senior Editor, Nature Energy)
Disclaimer: the editors of Flatchat in no way endorse any of the commercially available graphene-products mentioned in the article.